The eXile
#259
23 Mar 07

Triumph Of The Vile

Or: 300 Bottles Of Idiocy On The Screen
By Gary Brecher ( war_nerd@exile.ru )

FRESNO, CA — Well, I did it, took one for the team,
jumped on the grenade, offered my belly to the
bayonets – in other words, sat through 300, the
comic-book movie about Thermopylae. The only reason
this thing got made is that it makes good anti-Iran
propaganda, because as every war fan knows, at
Thermopylae “300 brave Spartans held off the entire
Persian army.”

Frank Miller’s movie is the “Hoo-ah!” version of this
story. Every time the Spartan king Leonidas makes a
“rousing speech,” his warriors yell “Hoo-ah!” like the
Rangers in Mogadishu in Black Hawk Down. Actually the
Spartans had a rep for silence, but we’re not dealing
with great historical minds here.

What had me really wanting to puke is that this movie
tries to make Sparta into some kind of Land of
Hallmark Card-givers. There’s about an hour’s worth of
perfume-ad scenes where Leonidas and his lovey-dovey
wife, a feisty lady in one of those bondage-lite Greek
dresses, cuddle and make eyes at each other and say
patriotic stuff by way of foreplay. Yeah, that’s why
you see those bumperstickers, “Sparta was for lovers.”

Fact: Sparta was about as romantic as North Korea.
Give or take a little egalitarianism, Sparta WAS North
Korea. Spartan laws did everything they could to break
down the family. Sparta was more anti-nuclear family
than any Hollywood liberal could ever be.

Wanna know what a Spartan wedding night was really
like? It’s pretty hilarious, in an insane way. As soon
as a Spartan girl got her first period, they grabbed
her, shaved her head, dressed her as a boy, threw her
down on her new husband’s bed, and then, well, he had
his way with her. What way was that? Since hubby had
been in an all-male dorm since age seven, I’m betting
that that night of lovin’ was more like a skinny white
boy’s introduction to San Quentin after lights-out
than it was like a chick flick. So when this movie
shows the Spartan hero saying to his wife, “Goodbye,
my love,” I just had to laugh.

No Spartan ever told his wife he loved her. That
would’ve been like treason, because the Spartan rulers
wanted family ties snapped, so the only bond left was
to the state. They left room for folks’ natural urges
by letting the women drink, which they did non-stop,
and the men form what you might call close comradely
bonds with their fellow soldiers.

In the ancient world, gay was a matter of who was on
top. If you were a topper, that was fine; if you were
the one getting in the ass, not so cool. In other
words, prison rules. Sparta’s leather-bar ways were a
running joke to the ancient Greeks. The Spartans were
stone killers – but they also preened like teenage
girls before a battle. They grew their hair long, and
before a fight they’d comb it, oil it, try out
fetching new styles, put little baubles in their ears,
anything to die young and leave a beautiful corpse.

None of that in this movie. Just the opposite. Miller
even has Leonidas taunt the Athenians calling them
“boy-lovers.” Athens, the true hero of the war against
Persia, gets dissed time and again in this movie. You
won’t hear a word in 300 about Salamis, the real
decisive battle of the war – because it was Athens,
not Sparta, that destroyed the Persian fleet at
Salamis. The Spartans wanted to run away from the
Persian fleet and wall themselves off in the
Peloponnese (you wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve
messed up the spelling on that damn word). They didn’t
have a clue about combined-arms operations (which the
Athenians handled durn well). In fact, the Spartans,
who are called “the finest soldiers in history” over
and over in this movie, were a mediocre,
one-dimensional, inflexible military force.

Sparta understood only one kind of fighting: land
battle, the hoplite shield-wall – a Big Ten offense
from the old school, “three yards and a cloud of
dust.” In any shield-wall vs. shield wall battle, the
bigger offensive line will break the opposing team’s
wall, leaving them open to massed spear thrusts. Once
the opposition’s wall was broken, the citizen-soldiers
would scatter to fight another day – a totally
sensible reaction, since the alternative was
annihilation. In battles like that, psycho varsity
offensive-line types like the ones Sparta bred did
just fine. But vary the conditions of battle in any
way, and they were as helpless as Woody Hayes’ Ohio
State teams were against a team that could stop the
run.

So it was actually fairly easy to stymie the Spartans:
just put them in a situation where they had to think
for themselves. Imagine a Spartan army up against a
Mongol scouting force. Even if the Spartans
outnumbered the Mongols by, say, 4-1, I’d have no
hesitation betting on the Mongols. They were truly
tough, not artificially hardened by sick PE games but
by life in the saddle, on the steppes. And they were
smart enough to realize that smarts count on the
battlefield, that negotiation and alliance-building,
scouting and propaganda are all important aspects of
war. Only amateurs like Frank Miller are dumb enough
to think that being dumb, mean and inflexible like the
Spartans is the route to military success.

The Thebans under a really brilliant general,
Epaminondas, crushed the Spartans in the battle of
Leuctra (371 B.C.) because Epaminondas just plain
out-thought those lummoxes. He knew exactly how the
Spartans would stack their forces in battle order,
because they always did it the same way. So he
tinkered with the conventional phalanx-stacking set-up
and those Thebans, most of them ordinary Greek
citizen-soldiers, mere amateurs by Spartan standards,
kicked Spartan ass right down the line. The Helots,
the locals the Spartans had enslaved and terrorized
for generations, finally got a chance for payback and
Sparta withered away to nothing. Game over.

Only amateur fascists admire Sparta guys like Frank
Miller, who are still pissed off because people like
me dared to warn them the Iraq war was going to be a
disaster. Now Miller and his fellow neocons have gone
so over the deep end of delusional thinking that
they’ve resorted to fantasizing about Sparta, where
nobody ever argued, where everyone yelled and stabbed
and otherwise kept their mouths shut.

It’s downright hilarious the way this movie punishes
every smart character. Every time someone wants to
argue with the war party in this movie, he’s evil.
Everybody who talks in a normal tone of voice is evil.
Miller shows two scenes where the Spartans murder
Persian envoys arriving under a flag of truce. And
both times, you’re supposed to cheer.

Since when do Americans cheer when truce parties are
murdered? Well, that’s pretty easy to answer,
actually: since Iraq. These diehard neocons have gone
insane because there’s no way they can argue for an
invasion of Iran any more. But they still want it,
bad. So they’ve taken a crash course in fascism,
jumping all the way to cheering for Sparta and booing
for Athens – because Athens stands for brains and
flexibility and talking things out. They can’t win the
argument, so they want to kill anybody who tries to
argue. That’s why Leonidas kicks the Persian envoy
down a well.

Miller only approves of two things:

1. Yelling

2. Bashing.

I say “bashing” because you can’t call his view of
military operations “strategy” or even “tactics.” It’s
just close-ups of Leonidas’s teeth while he yells
about “freedom.” He talks about “freedom” non-stop.
I’m serious. A Spartan! Talking about freedom!
Leonidas actually says, and this is a quote, “Freedom
isn’t free”! I thought I was back watching Team
America: “Freedom isn’t free/It costs a dollar
ninety-three…”

And since the ham playing Leonidas has this thick
Scottish accent, and teeth like an old horse, it was
like some Clydesdale doing an impression of Mel Gibson
in Braveheart at the same time. Left me woozy, I tell
ya.

But here’s what’s really interesting about Leonidas’s
“freedom” speeches: every one happens just after he’s
thrown some envoy down a well or stabbed somebody who
advocates talking strategy. That’s the real fantasy
here: wouldn’t it be great if we could just yell
“Hoo-ah!” non-stop and just kill the naysayers? You
can almost see this pitiful dweeb Frank Miller jacking
off every time his musclebound Spartan hero kills
another envoy or politician. That’ll shut’em up!

Well, it might be fun but it’s not war, fellas. If
there’s one thing we shoulda learned from Iraq, it’s
that in asymmetrical war, the following items are
totally useless, in fact worse than useless, because
they get in the way:

1. muscles

2. “Hoo-ah!”

3. killing anybody who points out the flaws in your
plan.

Contrary to what amateur fascists think, the really
successful military elites encourage discussion, train
mid-rank officers to react independently, and
discourage yelling, steroid use and macho bullshit in
general. Hell, even the Wehrmacht was filled with
calm, polite and cultured men. We could use a few of
them now.

Petraeus seems kind of like that, but by this time the
situation’s so awful I’m not sure how much he can do.
At least maybe it’ll shut up all the “Hoo-ah!” jocks,
make them realize they’re not fit for theater command,
and get them back to their true calling: coaching
high-school football. In Miller’s case, Junior
Varsity.

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